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Media releases 19 Dec 2022

Call to improve airport screening

Women wearing a breast prosthesis after a mastectomy are being insensitively treated during airport security screening, including being asked to remove their prosthesis.

Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) – Australia’s leading voice for those affected by breast cancer – has had more than 10 women contact its Helpline this year distressed at their treatment.

The number of women who have had a similar experience but not contacted BCNA is believed to be higher.

BCNA Director Policy, Advocacy & Support Services Vicki Durston has called on Australian airports to be aware of their obligations and to ensure staff know how to sensitively interact with travellers wearing a breast prosthesis following a mastectomy associated with breast cancer.

Airport staff should only conduct a pat down over a person’s clothes and never touch or remove a prosthesis. Travellers should be allowed to have the pat down in a private area and by an officer of the same gender.

Ms Durston welcomed training on breast protheses, and security screening processes delivered by Cancer Council ACT to security staff at Canberra Airport in November and calls on all airports to do the same.

In 2018 the Australian Government mandated airports across Australia move from metal detector scanners to full body scanners. Most major airports have already installed the new scanners.

The scanners detect foreign items worn on the body, under clothing. For people who have had a mastectomy, they have found the new scanners have picked up their breast prosthesis. This requires them to undertake an additional secondary screening process which may include a pat-down or screening using a handheld security device.

Sue, who lives in Perth, had two bad experiences when she travelled Perth to Melbourne return in October.

Leaving Perth, she was patted down in public and leaving Melbourne she was also patted down in public and taken to a private room where she was asked to remove her prosthesis.

“I was travelling alone and so distressed, I rang my husband. This was more than four years after my mastectomy and wearing a breast prothesis – I can only imagine how much more traumatic it would be for women who are travelling only months after surgery and wearing a prosthesis,” Sue said.

"Although the staff were not blatantly rude, they seemed to lack sensitivity and compassion to my situation. It took me by surprise, and I didn't know I could ask to be patted down in a private room, and they didn't offer.”

BCNA is calling for all people travelling with breast prostheses to have their rights respected.